Instant: The Story of Polaroid
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Instant: The Story of Polaroid

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  253 ratings  ·  52 reviews
"Instant photography at the push of a button!" During the 1960s and '70s, Polaroid was the coolest technology company on earth. Like Apple, it was an innovation machine that cranked out one must-have product after another. Led by its own visionary genius founder, Edwin Land, Polaroid grew from a 1937 garage start-up into a billion-dollar pop-culture phenomenon. Instant tel...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published September 26th 2012 by Princeton Architectural Press (first published September 10th 2012)
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Jenn Ravey
From the book cover:

Instant tells the remarkable tale of Edwin Land's one-of-a-kind invention - from Polaroid's first instant camera to hit the market in 1948 to its meteoric rise in popularity and adoption by artists such as Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, and Chuck Close, to the company's dramatic decline into bankruptcy in the late '90s and its unlikely resurrection in the digital age. Instant is both an inspiring tale of American ingenuity and a cautionary business tale about the perils of compan...more
William Ramsay
This book was a bit disappointing to me. Of course, the fact that I spent my entire work career at Polaroid may have something to do with my take on the company and why I feel Bonanos didn't get it quite right. I joined Polaroid in 1965 and was not a part of the early years, which the author covers quite interestingly. Where he fails to win my praise is in the two areas. First, he gives too much credit - and spends too much time - talking about the affect Polaroid had on the arts. True, Andy War...more
This book brought me back to all those times the Polaroid camera came out when we were growing up and made me smile as I remembered my dad's delight in the instant results of the picture taking. It is a fascinating story of a company dominated by its founder and the amazing things he and it accomplished because of the go for it culture he established. The stories of the early inventions were fascinating such as the Polaroid Sight-Conditioning train window.

After Land left the company, the stories...more
I thought the story of how Steve Jobs created Apple was a fascinating story... but then I learned that Jobs idolized Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid. After reading this book I now see how a lot of things Steve Jobs did were actually emulating what Land did a generation before... grabbing an unlikely bunch of geniuses, inspiring them to change the world, and a somewhat quixotic focus on the user experience over sales and profits. When I read about basic chemistry of how polaroid film works......more
I would never have read this book if it weren't part of the curriculum for academic writing at UMD, but it was so much fun to read. Bonanos takes advantage of neat parallels between Jobs and Apple and Land and Polaroid to tell his story, and is clearly a deep appreciator of Polaroid's artistic commitment.

The book includes a fair amount of pictures, but it should include more. Bonanos spends a fair amount of time describing images that are not reproduced in the book, when it would be much more e...more
LAPL Reads
Instant photography is so much a part of our lives that it is difficult to imagaine a time when it was a novelty. In the late 1940s the Polaroid Land Camera was commercially available and it printed a photograph in one minute. Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, was the Steve Jobs of his day, according to author Christopher Bonanos. He dropped out of Harvard and developed polarized filters for automobiles, sunglasses and 3-D spectacles. His Cambridge-based technology firm invented the first ins...more
Jan 24, 2014 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Elizabeth by: NPR
I still have a polaroid picture of my "boyfriend" at my 13th birthday party hoola-hooping. One of the funniest pictures from my early childhood is a polaroid picture of my sister and I sitting on Santa's lap. Why is it funny? My sister had one of her hands pulled up inside of her sleeve, making it look like she only has one hand. And I cherish, with some embarrassment, the picture of my 4th grade science fair team, circa 1990, in front of our award-winning model of a volcano...complete with my p...more
I was surprised by how quickly this read, but also disappointed with it. It started fast, and then...petered out.
Interesting, but a little uneven and unfocused with a tone that kept slipping into something slightly overfamiliar. Footnotes aren't something I would normally comment on, or even notice beyond flicking my eyes over them, but the ones here were strange and mostly irrelevant to the context at hand (if sometimes interesting enough that I wished there had been more focus on that).

Mostly it made me want to go out and see if anyone in my family still has a Polaroid camera kicking around somewhere tha...more
Gary Schroeder
Looking for an addictive and breezy little non-fiction book that you can polish off on a round trip plane flight? "Instant" is your ticket. This slim little volume covering the history of one of the most recognizable names in corporate America--and purveyors of one of the world's most memorable products--is written in a friendly, conversational style that really pulled me along.

Everyone except the very youngest among us fondly remember the pre-digital thrill of snapping a photo and seeing the re...more
"[A]ccording to Jobs' then-boss John Sculley, the two inventors described to each other a singular experience: Each had imagined a perfect new product, whole, already manufactured and sitting before him, and then spent years prodding executives, engineers, and factories to create it with as few compromises as possible." (13)

"'We want to ... make the working life of every single American a challenging and rewarding life. Now, I don't mean that you'll be "happy," I mean that you are going to be un...more
By Quentin Webb

Polaroid reinvented photography, but faded away. Christopher Bonanos’s “Instant: The Story of Polaroid” is a pacey history of the Apple of the analogue age.

Polaroid’s not-quite “instant” images seem quaint these days. They could not be duplicated easily, let alone transmitted electronically. In 1948, though, they were revolutionary. It took hours, not minutes, to develop conventional film.

The upstart company became a tech sensation. The public was smitten, as were artists such as...more
The first thing that came to my mind when I read this book was “History Repeats”. I had heard of Polaroid but all I knew of it was the Polaroid Instant Camera, the one where you click and it spits out an instant image. I remember many years back, we had the Polaroid Studio where we used to get instant passport size snaps. I vaguely recall the Polaroid TV Advert, which featured Pankaj Kapoor getting clicked Instantly. I still do see a lot of Polaroid cams in ‘Just for Laugh Gags’.

The Genius Edwin...more
Jordan Weissmann
A great short history of an iconic American company that, much like Apple today, stood at the intersection of culture and tech for three decades. Much of Polaroid's story is really the tale of its founder, Edwin Land, a Harvard dropout, gifted scientist, and arts lover who had a talent for captivating the press, along with a habit of waxing philosophical about the world-changing power of his inventions. (If all of that sounds a bit familiar, yes, Steve Jobs did consider Land an idol). Like many...more
John Latorre

The book traces how Edwin Land conceived the idea of the "instant camera" and built a company to make the technological innovations to make that camera possible. I already knew the rough outlines of the story but was surprised to see how that company was intended to be a research powerhouse as much as a manufacturer, always looking for the things that would be extremely cool but for which neither the consumer demand nor the technology was yet there. If you think that this could be said as much f...more
I never owned a Polaroid camera, but I love this book. Bonanos's account of the rise and fall of the Polaroid corporation - and its genius founder, Edwin Land - weaves together art, science, and business. I wasn't surprised to learn how Land excelled as a communicator, but I was struck by integral art was in the company's growth: some of Land's landmark inventions were actually projects spearheaded by women from Smith's art history department (he had them take chemistry classes); artists like An...more
I blazed through this book. It's definitely a quick read and left me wanting to read more into the company. Written in a somewhat more informal style than what you might expect. At times it feels more like a transcript of a lecture or documentary film. But at the end of it I definitely felt more informed about Edwin Land and Polaroid, and as someone who is starting to get into shooting with an old Land Camera from the 1960s, I finished this book feeling inspired to keep pushing both the film and...more
A concise and excellent description of the rise of the Polaroid empire and its creative force, Edwin Land. A pop-culture phenomenon that now forms an indelible part of our lexicon (the term "polaroid" is synonymous with instant viewing of analog photos), the development and success of this spectacular technology, much like its spiritual successor company and CEO (Apple and Steve Jobs) relied on a unique approach that encouraged creativity and innovation. Dissection of its subsequent failure may...more
This type of book is right up my alley: Engaging non-fiction that wraps biography, history, business, technology, and photography in a casual and conversational tone.

Instant film is close to my heart ... I've had dinner with Florian Kaps, Paul Giambarba, and John Reuter; Dave Bias and Anne Bowerman are good friends; and I met Andre Bosman when at The Impossible Project's film announcement event. So in some ways I felt like I was reading a book of family stories.

Even if you're not into photograp...more
Having lived through the time frame of Polaroid's development and high popularity, I found this book fascinating. Just the reminder of the things invented during my lifetime that are now commonplace is an eye-opener. I enjoy stories about dynamic, driven businessmen (and women!) with vision and will to 'get it done', so this book was right up my alley. The Polaroid story is on-going and Bonanos gave me a great overview of not only its history, but where the company is still headed.

Now the downsi...more
Excellent history of both the Polaroid company and the subsequent brand as we have come to know it. Reading this book made me wish I'd been alive in the 40s - 70s and could have worked for such an innovative, progressive company who did things like hire woman scientists when nobody else was doing such a thing and making the impossible happen by introducing the world to instant photography, a phenomenon no one thought possible. Really fun read for photography nerds, business-types, and history bu...more
A wonderful short write-up on Polaroid and how it aspired to be part of the Americana it was invented in. The author pulls up diverse sources to demonstrate the aggressively inventive culture which Land nurtured and how in terms of charisma Land defined "mind bending" scientific temper, discipline and hard work. The sheer number of smaller problems which were solved in order to lead up the the SX-70 or its predecessors are covered in detail (with references). And, that is why it becomes more pai...more
First of all, I will read/buy/love anything published by Princeton Architectural Press. Their book design is so far superior to most, I want to show up on their front doorstep one day and just kinda bask in the glory. And I love Polaroid cameras and film so this was a lovely marriage for me. This overview of Polaroid was a perfect quick read with lots of examples - it knew it didn't need to be the definitive doorstop of a book. But the info about the R and D and the collaboration with artists in...more
Instant is a truly beautiful company biography. And Polaroid is certainly very grateful subject matter. The beauty relates to the typography as well as the images and photography. To the point that the imagery is so rich, it actually takes away from the narrative. And that is a real pity because Christopher Bonanos has made a very nice merger of technology, economics and art. Especially the elaborate attention to the role Polaroid played in the work of many artists has made this company biograph...more
At first I thought this book would be all about the instant photograph that I've associated Polaroid with through my entire childhood. However, the book went into the founding of the company with its visionary leader, Edwin Land. His ideas, his inventions changed not only how we "see" photos but film in general. He changed the way movies were made and created polarized glass. I found this book fascinating. It is a very quick read about a company that had been a huge staple in Boston. Had some ma...more
Kenny Stoltz
I really love polaroid and I'm a sucker for business/science profiles... but this felt a little lacking somehow. I think the real issue is that Edwin Land requested his papers be burnt, meaning that the portrait of him was very vague. Beyond that I feel that one of the most amazing stories of the book, that Polaroid had a huge number of women involved in scientific and managerial work, did not get a great narrative. It felt somewhere between the land of fact and story, and I went into it hoping...more
Well written and quick read. Interesting biography of Edwin Land and history of the Polaroid company.
I read this by flashlight after Hurricane Sandy knocked out the power in my neighborhood. Even under these difficult circumstances I couldn't put it down. It's a great story about an amazing product that many of us are very emotionally attached to, and Christopher Bonanos told it so well. I got to know the people well, and why the company ended up shutting its doors (sob). Thank you Polaroid, for all the great years, and thank you Christopher Bonanos for this wonderful book.
Mike Rodman
There's something sad about this biography of Polaroid. They made some great products but didn't have the courage to change course and go digital. They were ready to come out with a camera that would have put them at the fore of the digital revolution, but pulled the plug so as not to cannibalize their film business. Makes you wonder what could have been. There is nothing more instant than digital and, as the book notes, Polaroid is synonymous with instant photography.
Tim Lapetino
Fantastic read, and I was inspired and energized by the story of Edwin Land's creation and success of Polaroid. Amazing story that is just as captivating to me as a creative business person as anything I've read about Apple and Steve Jobs. Well worth the read, with a detailed look into Land's innovative thinking and management of a creative company as well as the nostalgia-tinged reminders of that signature white-framed instant photo.
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